Here’s my definition: God speaking in the power of His Spirit about His Son from His word through a man.
In true preaching, like everything of lasting spiritual worth, God himself is the main Actor. And, as with everything in the spiritual life, it’s impossible to bear any fruit in preaching apart from the power and influence of God the Holy Spirit. Moreover, no sermon can be called Christian preaching until and unless it centers upon the Son of God crucified, buried, resurrected, ascended, reigning and returning for the salvation of His people. All else is lecturing.
But there’s a fourth element in true preaching. True preaching comes “from His word.” That is, true preaching happens when the biblical text dominates, drives, delimits what the preacher speaks.
Why must this be the case?
First, true preaching must come “from His word” because God speaks most specifically and regularly in His word. The heavens declare His glory and pour forth speech (Ps. 19). He has written the reality of His existence on the human conscience (Rom. 2:1-16). And in various times and places God has spoken in various ways through prophets (Heb. 1:1). But the Sovereign God speaks always by His inscripturated special revelation. If preaching is God speaking then preaching must be from His word.
Second, true preaching must come “from His word” because man knows nothing. What a travesty and tragedy to see men take the pulpit to supply their thoughts in place of Omniscience! If all the knowledge and wisdom in the universe were represented by a giant circle on a wall and human wisdom represented by shading some portion of that circle, we would only be able to place the tiniest speck in that great circle of knowledge. Next to God, we know virtually nothing–and that in disconnected and fragile ways. Let God be true and every man a liar. Only God comprehends all. Only God declares the end from the beginning. Only God feeds His people with more than bread. Only God thoroughly equips us for every good work. He does it all by His word–not by human wisdom. True preaching must come from His word because His word is life!
Third, true preaching must come “from His word” because that’s where God bears witness to His Son. Have you ever considered how remarkable it is that virtually everything we know about Jesus the Son of God comes from one book? Consider the vast number of books, parchments, scrolls and documents that have been written throughout human history, that fill great university libraries, and that are being published this very day. Yet, only one book infallibly reveals to us the Savior of our souls! Only one book unfolds the riches of God’s love and mercy in His Son. Only one book–attacked and trashed by its enemies–rises above the rest to declare the only way we may be saved! Preaching must prize, prioritize, and publish the contents of this one glorious book–the Bible!
So, true preaching must necessarily arise from the sacred oracles of God.
What implications does this have for preaching?
First, a preacher without a Bible has no authority. He’s really not a Christian preacher at all. He can’t truly be trusted. Even some men with Bibles can’t be trusted; surely the one who leaves it off altogether is better ignored than followed. Closed Bibles should result in closed mouths.
Second, the preacher’s task is to explain and apply what God said. Period. The word doesn’t need help–it’s sufficient and effective. Explain it plainly. Explain it passionately. Explain it patiently. Explain it persuasively. Then apply it in like manner and watch the word do the work. The preacher needs to get out of the way so the word of God captures the attention and affection of the people. This means the only true preaching is expositional preaching–line upon line, precept upon precept. I don’t care if a man preaches a topical series, as long as it’s an exposition. He need not preach consecutive texts through one book–though that’s best–as long as the text he takes takes him in return and becomes the main thing.
Third, the preacher should not go beyond what is written. Let us be careful of the temptation to insert our own opinions and rules under the guise of application or exposition. Let us be wary the subtle coercion of God’s people with a “Thus saith the Lord” when the Lord has not said. Let us be watchful of our “logical” deductions and “theological” conclusions when they’re really just our preferences born of our convenience and “wisdom.” Let us declare the whole counsel of God–which is to proclaim all He says in a text and nothing He leaves out. If the Lord wanted us to know, He would tell us. If He didn’t tell us, then He has hidden it in the counsel of His own will (Deut. 29:29).
Fourth, the preacher must never preach himself. Never. Ever. How easy it is to glory in ourselves. But we must resolve to know only Christ and him crucified. We must not preach ourselves by looking to be entertainers and comedians. As John Henry Jowett put it: “We never reach the innermost room in any man’s soul by the expediences of the showman or the buffoon.” We must not preach ourselves by cultivating the aesthetics of the church around our personalities. We must never preach ourselves by attempting to dazzle with our gifts or intellect. As James Denney reminds us: “No man can bear witness to Christ and to himself at the same time. No man can give the impression that he himself is clever and that Christ is mighty to save.” We are pitiful substitutes for the book and the Christ it reveals.
Brothers, let us “Bring the book!” Let all our preaching be “from His word” in the very best sense imaginable. Oh Lord, help us to be men of one book and to lead people of one book for your glory and our joy!